Halloween gives people the freedom to dress up as anything they want, but costumed celebrants do not realize that with this freedom comes the responsibility of avoiding offending others.
It seems as if in every small American town, there is a run-down plaza decorated with cracked sidewalks and “For Lease” signs posted in the windows of abandoned stores. When the Halloween season comes around, these shopping centers transform into pop-up Halloween stores.
Behind the sliding doors and the discolored linoleum of the front entrance, one can see collections of wigs, fake blood, body parts and walls lined with an assorted display of costumes. You can find costumes like “Pocahottie,” “Call Me Caitlyn,” “Anna Rexia” and “Cecil the Lion.”
Certain types of costumes are telling of an overlooked social issue: cultural appropriation. When culturally privileged American citizens embrace components of other cultures, even in the spirit of fun, we exploit historically marginalized groups for our own personal enjoyment.
“Indian” costumes are a staple of the holiday and have a consistent way of being disrespectful. The Native American community consists of 562 nations, each diverse in their own way. “Playing Indian” on Halloween neglects the vast uniqueness of a living community that has been victimized over time. The diverse Native American culture is stereotyped and simplified to a one-dimensional caricature.
In a BuzzFeed video, Native Americans don “Indian” Halloween costumes and their candid reactions prove how wrong their heritage is portrayed in the form of costumes. The costumes have names like “Indian Brave,” “Tribal Temptation” and “Chief Indian Hottie.”
Adorned with embellishments like feathers, beading and fringe, it becomes obvious that cultural accuracy did not play a role in the costumes’ design.
Often lost in the production of these costumes is the sacred symbolism behind the designs of Native American headdresses. Only certain members of Native American communities are allowed to wear feathered headdresses. Misusing them for a Halloween costume only fuels the misunderstanding of Native American customs.
The stripping away of cultural context is wrong. Costumes built on stereotypes make Native Americans seem like a group of the past, as if they are not real people today. Wearing a group of people as a costume is disrespectful. Nobody’s culture should be reduced to a polyester costume.
Native American culture still exists today. Stereotypes about “Indians” continue, but there is a younger generation of Native American fashion designers who have started to incorporate their culture into their designs. They have made it possible to respect tradition year-round while making it available to a larger group of people.
Wanting to dress up on Halloween is not problematic. The real issue arises when people take an entire group of people and reduce them to a satirical costume or an over-sexualized caricature.
When choosing a Halloween costume, self-awareness is key. Think twice when making a costume decision this year, and consider what kind of statement your costume is making.